The verdict: Volvo’s five years of experience building plug-in-hybrid SUVs seems to be paying off, as the Recharge T8 version of the 2021 XC60 luxury compact SUV is as well rounded in its plug-in aspects as the gas version is in every other way.

Versus the competition: This will soon change, but the XC60 T8 has few direct competitors, though it matches the 2021 Audi Q5 e for electric range and gas mileage, and it trounces the 2021 BMW X3 xDrive30e in the latter category. For both metrics, the model to beat might be the Corsair Grand Touring, coming this spring from a resurgent Lincoln.

Volvo appears to be using the word “Recharge” to represent any vehicle with a plug, be it a pure battery-electric, such as the new XC40 Recharge subcompact SUV, or this plug-in hybrid version of the XC60 compact SUV. Perhaps a better indicator is the “T8” powertrain designation, which we’ve seen only on plug-in hybrids, including the larger XC90 Recharge T8. The original Volvo XC60 is an excellent luxury compact SUV, good enough to win our 2018 comparison test. Not much has changed — either for the XC60 or its competitors — since. Rather than rehash what we like about it, I’ll direct you to our most recent comprehensive review of the regular XC60 and focus here on the plug-in hybrid.

Ten years’ experience has revealed the many ways in which a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, can go astray, so I’ve come to focus my evaluations of them on these factors. Each area undergoes a pass/fail test to determine whether the vehicle as a whole passes muster. Behold the XC60’s Recharge’s results:

Electric Range
This is an important one because early PHEVs had electric ranges that were comically short. One of the first, the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, could drive only 6 miles on electric power, as estimated by the EPA.

We’ve come a long way since then. Most PHEVs go roughly 20 miles before their gas engines are needed, and they can even achieve highway speeds gas-free. The Prius Plug-In’s successor has been succeeded by today’s vastly improved Prius Prime, which has a 25-mile electric range. The EPA estimates the XC60 T8 can go 18 miles on a charge. I matched or exceeded that number twice, thanks in part to favorable weather.

This test isn’t about whether the vehicle hits its estimate, though; it’s about the range itself, and anything under 20 miles feels too short. I know 18 miles is technically long enough — and I underscore that a 20-mile trip that uses gasoline for only 2 miles is still great — but the key word here is feels. American shoppers are driven by feeling as much as logic, if not more. (By the same token, 150 miles doesn’t feel like enough range for an all-electric car, even though it’s usually more than enough if you charge it nightly at home.) Also, cold temperatures invariably shorten range. So, bearing in mind that each of these pass/fail tests add up to an overall verdict, I’m going to consider any PHEV range under 20 a failure (or just a fail, as the kids say).

Pass/fail verdict: Fail

Electric Acceleration
In a plug-in hybrid, you want to have enough power to drive in electric-only mode without triggering the gas engine, at least under normal conditions. This is mainly a psychological thing given that it doesn’t hurt if the engine runs for a minute or two. It’s just the principle of it, you know? In its default, hybrid driving mode, the XC60 Recharge will accelerate under electric power at lower speeds, and you can maintain that so long as you keep the virtual needle on the gauge from crossing from the lightning symbol side of the tick mark (electric) to the droplet symbol side (gasoline). Note that while the needle moves with your acceleration, the tick mark and the threshold between electric and gas are also a moving target, depending on load, incline, etc.

The true test of electric acceleration comes by locking a car in electric propulsion, which you do in the XC60 T8 by selecting the Pure driving mode; it’s available so long as there’s enough juice in your battery pack. In Pure mode, you can accelerate as hard as you want and stay in electric mode — so long as you don’t click the switch at the bottom of the accelerator pedal’s travel (it used to be called the kickdown switch). Power in the Volvo is modest because the goal in a PHEV isn’t to have a super-powerful electric motor and a super-powerful gas engine; that would be inefficient. The goal is for the motor and engine to be powerful together. If you’re in a bind and you floor it and click that switch, the gas engine comes to life and you get full acceleration. In normal driving, I found the Volvo’s electric mode to be adequate 95% of the time — but it bears noting that is headquartered in the flatlands of Chicago.

I was able to achieve 70-plus mph on the highway, but one time after merging onto an interstate, I encountered a gentle uphill slope that climbed for at least a mile. With the T8 powertrain at the height of its electric abilities, I was below the speed limit and barely tacking on mph — with drivers behind me getting irritated and whipping around me. This was with only me in the car and no cargo weighing it down. Of course, in this instance, I could have easily floored the pedal the rest of the way and used the gas engine. If ever I had to pass, I’d definitely have needed to. If you drive in a hilly region, I suspect you’ll rely on the XC60’s gas engine more often than I did.

In my electric acceleration test, the XC60 T8 was borderline. It was certainly less effective on highways and hills, but because I like how it’s executed and it worked well where I drove it, I’ll give it a pass.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

Hybrid Acceleration
Hybrid acceleration is also important, and it has different aspects. First, you don’t want to make sacrifices, and Volvo seems to know that. Its combination of the supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor provides 400 total system horsepower (415 hp in the Polestar Engineered trim level, thanks to different gas-engine tuning). These numbers are well above the most powerful non-hybrid XC60 — the T6’s 316 hp — but the hybrids also weigh considerably more, so it’s best to look at 0-60-mph times. According to Volvo, the T8 powertrain is the quickest to make that run, at 5.0 seconds (4.9 seconds in the Polestar Engineered). The T6 is rated at 5.6 seconds and the all-wheel-drive T5 at 6.4 seconds, so not only are you not losing acceleration by choosing the PHEV, you’re gaining it.

Then there’s how the acceleration feels. Hybrid powertrains have traditionally felt kinda herky-jerky, and that would definitely be a sacrifice in a luxury vehicle. Volvo has done a nice job with this one. It incorporates the same eight-speed automatic transmission as the non-hybrid T5 and T6, so you don’t get the droning and rubber-band effect earlier hybrid adopters suffered. It doesn’t feel 100% conventional, but it’s pretty close. The XC60 T8 passes the hybrid acceleration test.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

That brings us to braking. Hybrid braking is often nonlinear and mushy-feeling — just generally not what you want. We’ve put up with it for the sake of better mileage, though, and fortunately hybrid braking action has been improving. Again, Volvo’s done a nice job here. I didn’t mistake the XC60 T8’s pedal feel for a conventional braking system, but some people might. It passes.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

The Interior
If you don’t think the interior matters, you’ve probably never inspected a plug-in hybrid version of an existing vehicle before. Historically, squeezing a second propulsion system into a vehicle that wasn’t designed for it has meant something had to give. Battery packs in particular tended to diminish interior space, robbing either backseat legroom or cargo volume.

The XC60 T8 passes the cabin test with flying colors. Its seating dimensions are exactly the same as the gas-only versions of the XC60 front and rear.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

Cargo Space
While we’ve seen some PHEVs whose floors are elevated to accommodate a battery pack, that’s not exactly the case here — though there is something weird going on because it isn’t perfectly level, which I don’t recall from the non-hybrid. It’s barely noticeable, though, and the cargo dimensions are once again the same between the regular and the Recharge versions of the XC60. The main sacrifice — visible if you raise the floor — is the lack of a spare tire. Instead, you get a compressor and some sealant goo. Honestly, there are a lot of vehicles nowadays that lack a spare tire with less of an excuse than the XC60 Recharge, so I’m not going to hold this against it.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

Towing Capacity
Some hybrids just can’t hack towing, but the Recharge is rated to tow 3,500 pounds just like other XC60s. You can get an SUV that tows a considerably heavier trailer than the XC60, but when it comes to PHEV versus gas-only, the Recharge T8 passes the towing test.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

Gas Mileage
Gas mileage is a crucial consideration, even if the vehicle has a long electric range but especially if it doesn’t. For the Volvo, there’s good news here: Once its electric charge is depleted, the XC60 Recharge is rated 26/28/27 mpg city/highway/combined on required premium gas. The XC60 T6 that’s closest to the Recharge’s performance is rated 23 mpg combined. Even the most efficient XC60 T5 with FWD is rated 25 mpg combined — 2 mpg less than the T8. That means you could buy a Recharge and never plug it in and you’d still get better mileage. While that would be a pointless waste, and I hesitate to give anyone bad ideas, any PHEV with better combined mpg than the rest of its range even without plugging in gets an automatic pass in the gas mileage test.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

Overall Range
Another test inspired by PHEV history, this one is necessary because, while it’s pretty easy to see good electric range figures and mpg ratings, overall range is easily overlooked. When an automaker shrinks the gas tank significantly in order to make room for batteries, for example, the overall range can end up being pathetic. Not to fear: According to EPA estimates, the XC60 T8’s total range is 520 miles, 502 on gasoline. This beats the T5 FWD by 32-50 miles. The T8 passes the overall range test.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

The price test takes into account all the other tests. If a vehicle fails many of the previous tests, any price premium would be harder to swallow — and, conversely, if a vehicle had leading electric range or some other stand-out attribute, a higher price could be justified.

Because there’s a federal tax credit of over $5,400 for the Recharge, its price ends up being roughly $500 more than a comparable trim level with the T6 powertrain — the most powerful non-hybrid XC60. You can pay several thousand dollars less for a T5, but, as we’ve covered, it will be both less powerful and less efficient. Some $500 seems a small price to pay for a plug-in hybrid of the XC60 T8’s capabilities. At least so long as the tax credit remains available, it passes this test, as well.

The downside to tax credits is you have to pay more up front and won’t get the money back until the IRS sends your tax returns the following calendar year. The XC60 Recharge T8 starts with the Inscription Expression trim level with standard all-wheel drive at $54,595 (all prices exclude the incentive but include destination charges). It also comes in R-Design and Inscription trims before topping out with the Polestar at $70,595. Our test vehicle was an XC60 Recharge T8 Inscription with a base price of $61,000 but a total sticker of $71,340, including many options such as the Climate Package, Advanced Package, 4-Corner Air Suspension, Bowers & Wilkins premium audio and more.

Pass/fail verdict: Pass

Final Test Results
It shouldn’t surprise you that the 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge T8 passes the overall plug-in hybrid test with flying colors. Honestly, I’d happily trade some of its horsepower and acceleration for more electric range, but it isn’t that simple when you’re combining electric motors with gasoline engines in existing models; automakers typically work with platforms that weren’t designed for hybrid use (though this is slowly changing), and they only have so many engines of their own to choose from. Given how many challenges and trade-offs manufacturers face, and the results we’ve seen in other PHEVs, Volvo has balanced things out quite nicely here. Five years of experience building plug-in hybrid SUVs is evident in the 2021 XC60 Recharge T8.

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